Apple Inc. said it received as many as 5,542 information requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies in the first half of 2013, and said it would disclose more about data inquiries if not for a government “gag order.”
Of the requests, 1,000 to 2,000 were for personal account information from iTunes, iCloud, e-mail, photos and other content stored online, according to a report published yesterday on the company’s website. The other 3,542 inquiries weren’t related to national security, and sought information about specific devices, including those that may have been stolen or lost, Apple said.
Apple, the world’s most valuable company, criticized the U.S. government for barring it from sharing more information about the account inquiries. The iPhone maker joins Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in seeking more leeway to publish details about the requests and what customer information they are turning over. Disclosures about the capabilities of the National Security Agency to track online communication is a challenge for the companies, whose businesses are based on customer trust and users’ ability to safely share information on devices like iPhone.
“We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts,” Apple said in the report. “Despite our extensive efforts in this area, we do not yet have an agreement that we feel adequately addresses our customers’ right to know how often and under what circumstances we provide data to law enforcement agencies.”
Apple said it prepared the report to provide transparency to customers about its privacy protections. The company said its safeguards include encrypting messages and conversations through its services, and it doesn’t store location data or searches “in any identifiable form.”
“Our business does not depend on collecting personal data,” Apple said. “We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers.”
The company said account requests usually involve sharing user information such as a name and address, and it is asked to provide stored photos or e-mail “in very rare cases.”
“We consider these requests very carefully and only provide account content in extremely limited circumstances.”
Apple said the government allows it to share information about the law-enforcement requests only in broad ranges, including the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by the orders, and whether content, such as e-mails, was shared. For example, the company can only disclose the account requests it receives in increments of 1,000.
Apple said it has filed an amicus brief at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in support of cases requesting greater transparency, and plans to file a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals regarding a case involving transparency and national security letters.
The most requests in the period from Jan. 1 to June 30 came from the U.S., followed by Germany, Singapore, Australia and the U.K., according to the report.